Nine years after “Maggie Has a Plan,” Rebecca Miller is back with “Addicted to Romance.” Available on video from February 8, the film starring Peter Dinklage premiered at the Deauville festival where its director spoke to us about it.
With six films under her belt in just under thirty years, Rebecca Miller is a rare filmmaker. But her journey has brought her to the stage of the Deauville American Cinema Festival more than once. It was there that she produced The Ballad of Jack and Rose (in which she directed her husband Daniel Day-Lewis), The Private Lives of Pippa Lee and Addicted to Romance, her most recent feature film to date.
Which was called She Come to Me at the time of its release, in the midst of a screenwriters’ (and actors’) strike for which Rebecca Miller had shown her support from Normandy, although she enjoyed an exemption to discuss her new opus.
And so we spent a few minutes talking with him about this dramatic comedy by Peter Dinklage, Marisa Tomei and Anne Hathaway, about a musician suffering from blank page syndrome. But also his writing, the personal side of the story and its relation to romantic comedy.
AlloCiné: I think when screenwriters talk about block, it’s in terms of his own blank page syndrome. Was this the starting point for “Addicted to Romance”?
: Yes. I first wrote a short story in Dublin and about writer’s blank page syndrome. Years later, he has become an opera composer who stops when he gets the chance to return to center stage. But this story is inspired in a way, by something that happened to me many years ago.
I experienced very severe blank page syndrome, I was completely blocked. Which, as anyone writes, is quite an existential situation, as you can imagine. (laughs)
Why did you choose to turn this author into a musician?
There are many reasons for that. One of my children is now a musician and, before studying composition, played the violin. Simultaneously I began to discover and appreciate opera. A new opera. I started watching new operas and was very interested in the medium, which I find very emotional and gentle. You can do almost anything in opera, because you are not governed by the laws of what can happen in the world.
It’s very free, and I thought to myself that it would be great to have two operas in the film. That we have the finale of two operas on the screen. I love challenges, and I find this one huge.
I experienced very severe blank page syndrome, I was completely blocked. Which, as anyone writes, is indeed an existential situation.
In general, how much has your own experience inspired the films you’ve made?
I do not use them in their raw state. That is to say, I am not in the habit of reproducing things as they happened to me, of putting them in the situation as they are. It may have happened, but I’m thin on the story I tell, so I can talk about my concerns. Steven’s character definitely has a lot of me in it and at the same time, it’s not completely me. I can make decisions on my own behalf.
What tends to happen is that everything from the story to the characters becomes a cocktail of some aspects and experiences of you as well as things you’ve seen, heard.
You use the word “observation”: do you, like Steven, observe people for ideas, as he does when he walks his dog? The characters in your films and what you say are very tangible.
Totally! I am very curious about human beings. People really interest me. He motivates me the most in my work. I’m also a very visual person, but what pushes me to make films in particular is that I continue to be fascinated by people.
I don’t immediately think about what I’m going to use in the film, or if I’m going to do it, but there are often things that strike me. And I always listen. It’s the writer’s curse.
Besides people, your films often revolve around relationships and the pursuit of happiness. Is it done consciously?
Definitely yes, because I believe in the idea that people change or create each other. Human beings are truly themselves only when they are in relationships with other people, and this extends from childhood. A lot of emphasis is placed on what we learn in childhood, and rightly so because so many important things happen.
But I think we can meet someone in our forties or fifties, who can change us for better or worse. And I find that very interesting, because it’s dramatic. Otherwise, we’re just watching someone go through a lonely experience.
This also feeds acting: acting means listening and responding. That is the essence of good acting. So when, here, you see Peter and Marissa doing the same thing in the bar scene where they first meet, it’s a master class for me in listening and responding. And we see how they are constantly replacing each other.
“Addicted to Romance” also shows the bad effect romantic comedies have on people. Do you personally feel that way, given that your films tend to be anti-romantic comedies?
Despite everything, I am interested in the form of romantic comedy. In the sense that to me it’s one of the greatest forms of American art, which takes us back to Ernst Lubitz, Billy Wilder and all these wonderful directors who made these films. But the style is devalued, while for complex characters, there is room for anomalies.
Show that one thing can be true in a character, but also the opposite. Being able to see the victim through the prism of forgiveness and lightness. That was my goal here: Steven is very depressed when we meet him, but because Peter is such a great actor, he conveys his anxiety, fear and sadness in a comical way, which is very difficult to do.
Whether I’m looking at things from a dramatic or a more comedic perspective, I’m always interested in how a character encompasses conflicting qualities.
I’m a very visual person, but what particularly drives me to make films is that I continue to be fascinated by people.
It’s also about how you can’t control things in life, and not just for the main character.
Yes, I mention it often in my films. Because I think it’s scary to know that we can’t control everything in life, and we have to accept that we live in a somewhat chaotic universe, that we don’t know what’s going to happen. And you cannot control who is around you, who you love and who you want to protect.
I’ve also noticed another motif in my films, even if I don’t put it consciously: escape. In a way, Addicted to Romance is a great unpacking of life. Each person’s life unfolds, and each person approaches their vision of freedom.
Which is sometimes countercultural, like what Patricia does (Anne Hathaway), in the context of the materialistic world in which we live. Or the way children follow their first love, something we rarely do as adults.
You were an actress before becoming a screenwriter and director: to what extent does that help you when you’re writing a character or directing a character?
This helps me a lot. I always knew that acting was not my main talent, but I think I have enough experience with it. Have studied them enough and also experienced some of the negative things that can happen to them. It also allowed me to understand that you have to approach each actor differently, because they each have different needs. You can’t talk to everyone the same way, you have to know how to adapt.
In particular, the fact that not every actor will react in a given situation in the same way.
absolutely. Some artists need space. Others that you contact them to work closely with. You should be able to feel it. And although you can’t always aim right, but I think there’s one thing I’m good at, and that’s understanding people.
In which category of actor do you place Peter Dinklage?
He is very independent as an actor, but also very responsive. If you say a small thing, it soaks it up like a drop of paint in a glass of water. So you should be very economical while talking to him, because he is very intelligent. And so vulnerable. But, overall, his instincts are incredibly strong. And it’s very realistic, it manages to make the scenes very real, which I love.
Is it thanks to him that Bryce Dessner composed the music for the film? Because they worked together on “Cyrano”.
This is one more coincidence: it is attributed to Katia Labek, the pianist who plays in the film. He is my husband’s close friend (Daniel Day-Lewis, Editor’s Note) And I, and I really wanted her to be in the movie somehow. And she was the one who recommended Bryce to me, told me he wrote operas. and a concert for her and her sister Mariel Lebec. Apart from film music, and his presence in the group The National.
He has an immense knowledge, not only of his own music, but of the kind of opera that is on film, which is incredible. I wanted the piece to sound authentic, not like a pastiche or a film composer writing things like contemporary opera. Someone who actually writes it, so we can take it seriously. Although the film has an element of comedy, it wouldn’t have worked if it didn’t feel realistic.
Comments collected by Maximilien Pierret in Deauville on September 3, 2023